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High School Stress: My Academic Stress in High School

Academic Pressure on High School Students: One Girl’s Account

Dear Mom and Dad,

High school was so stressful. I know you tried to empathize with me. You never pressured me to get a perfect GPA. You didn’t force me to play field hockey after I quit. You listened to me complain about homework and the weight of my backpack and physics. I count myself lucky to have been free of helicopter parents.

The thing is, for all of your empathy, I never really believed you understood my high school stress. When you went to college, in-state tuition was $4,000 a year. You were all but guaranteed admittance into state schools by virtue of your status as a breathing 18-year-old. AP classes weren’t required; SAT tutors didn’t exist.

Honestly, the extreme academic stress I experienced was entirely my own fault. My Type A personality helped me to be a good student—top of my class, in fact—but it also dominated my life.

From the summer before junior year until I picked a college, I was totally stressed out. I slept fewer than six hours a night. I was practically unable to miss a homework assignment or show up for a test without being fully prepared. One “C” on a Calculus test rendered me catatonic for the rest of the day. Senior year, I spent two days bedridden with a migraine because of pent up, college-related stress.

My schoolwork was meticulous, but my room was a mess and I had terrible acne. I had great friends, but no real social life. I could only handle so much. And I chose to handle school at the expense of everything else.

My Academic Stress

I don’t think my experience is unique. Many high school students experience severe academic stress—all the time. Mine was self-generated, but other students suffer from overbearing (though, I’m sure, well-intentioned) parents who demand perfect grades, varsity letters, debate trophies, and Ivy League college acceptance letters. Even those lucky students with a more relaxed approach to academics still feel pressure from their high schools to get into “good” colleges. That expectation weighs heavily on students.

High school is all about one thing: getting into college. So instead of developing a normal high school social life, I often felt like I was competing against my classmates for acceptance letters. Friday night was for homework. Everything I did was to enhance my college application.

I wouldn’t go back to high school if you paid me. Since graduating, I’ve mellowed out considerably. I still work hard, but school isn’t my sole focus. I go out. I’m involved in extracurriculars that interest me (no more debate team). My room is tidy, and my skin is clear. I’m less intense and more well rounded, as both of you have noted.

People joke about peaking in high school. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be as focused or dedicated to anything as I was to my high school studies. But, it was unsustainable and motivated by stress. In college, I have finally learned stress management, but when I really needed it – in the throes of high school—I was plum out of luck.

Thanks for helping me through it, guys, and for letting me vent.

Love, Emma

Emma Freer attended Ruffing Montessori and Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio. Emma gave the senior speech at her high school graduation.

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